Craig Baxter: Friend of Bangladesh | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 13, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, March 13, 2008

Craig Baxter: Friend of Bangladesh

TEACHER, scholar, diplomat, and institution-builder, Professor Craig Baxter, was a devoted friend of Bangladesh. He retained lively ties with Bangladesh until he breathed his last on February 7.
He walked with elegant ease in the worlds of diplomacy and academic pursuits. He began his career as a diplomat in the 1960s and served in various important positions in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Craig spent nearly a year in the early 60s in Washington, learning Hindi and Urdu to help his work as a diplomat assigned to the sub-continent.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Craig obtained his PhD for his work on the Indian Hindu-revivalist party Janasangh. In course of his career as diplomat he made many friends in various countries of South Asia. Among these friends were mighty politicians, top bureaucrats, leading businessmen, famous academicians, and reputed media persons.
During the historic days of the glorious War of Liberation, Craig was holding charge of the Bangladesh Desk in the US State Department. He later recollected with great pride that he was the only one authorised quietly by US decision-makers to speak and deal with Bengali diplomats and activists who had defected from Pakistan and engaged in pro-liberation activities on US soil.
Craig got an opportunity to serve in the US mission in Bangladesh during the late 1970s as deputy chief of mission. He played a great and important role in cementing the friendly ties between Bangladesh and US. That was the time I first met him. This encounter was the beginning of a long and enduring friendship.
After returning to US at the end of his tenure in Bangladesh, he served in the State Department and was later assigned to work at the West Point Military Academy. Shortly thereafter he left the world of diplomacy to resume his career as an academician. From 1980s he served as professor and chair of political science in Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
It was during this time that he initiated the process of building an enduring bridge between the scholars of US and Bangladesh. With the assistance of a number of US teachers and scholars interested in Bangladesh, he founded the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies (AIBS) in 1989. He also succeeded in securing valuable and steady support on both Bangladesh and the US for the institute.
As envisaged and built by Craig and his able colleagues, AIBS was an association of a number of reputed universities and institutes of higher learning in the US interested in Bangladesh studies.
The main objective of the institute is to promote educational exchange at the advanced scholarly level between the peoples of Bangladesh and the US. Research grants were provided on a regular basis to American scholars to pursue research in Bangladesh on studies and projects aimed at understanding of the history, politics, economy, society and culture of the country.
Grants were also provided to Bangladeshi scholars for reciprocal purposes, under the parallel program initiated in July 1993 with financial assistance from the State Department. AIBS operated its activities in Bangladesh through the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh.
Seventy-one grantees from the US have completed their assignments during the period from 1990 to May 2005. Among the universities/institutes currently affiliated with AIBS are Universities of Pennsylvania, California at Berkeley, Columbia, Chicago, Cornell, The Pennsylvania State, Lock Haven, North Carolina State, Rowan at Glassboro, New Jersey, Southern Illinois, Syracuse, Texas at Austin, Washington, and Wake Forest.
The supporting program provided dollar funds during period 1993-2004 to finance 17 short-term grants to Bangladeshi scholars. The grant is also designed to support a seminar every year for faculty and administration development in public and private universities and other higher educational institutes in Bangladesh.
AIBS has been running since 1994 a program of orientation visit to Bangladesh by undergraduate students teams from various US universities and colleges. The teams were led by faculty members and visited Bangladesh for a period of three weeks. Up to June 2004, 10 such teams composed of 67 students visited Bangladesh.
He worked as the president of AIBS for more than a decade since 1989. He also visited Bangladesh almost every year and interacted with concerned government leaders, top civil servants and diplomats and reputed academicians to improve and expand the areas of AIBS activities. By the year 2000, when he retired as president, the institution he created had become a vibrant link between the academic worlds of the US and Bangladesh.
Institution-builder and seasoned diplomat as he was, Craig Baxter was in essence a dedicated scholar. He had specialised on South Asia. The thriving process of life and politics in the region never ceased to fascinate him. His friendship with important actors in the political, administrative and diplomatic sectors of the South Asian countries equipped him with a penetrating insight not easily available to external observers and analysts.
One of his greatest academic contributions was the textbook on South Asian politics that he co-authored. This helped graduate and undergraduate students in the US and elsewhere to gain better understanding of political developments in the sub-continent.
He wrote several books on South Asia, including a few on Bangladesh. The most notable among these was Bangladesh: A New Nation in an Old Setting. Another significant work that he co-authored with Dr. Syedur Rahman was the Historical Dictionary of Bangladesh, the revised third edition of which was published in 2004. He also edited and co-authored books on Pakistan. In the twilight of his life he edited the diaries of former Pakistani president Field Marshall Ayub Khan.
In many ways Craig was a citizen of the world. Despite his staunch loyalty to his American identity, he spread beyond the shores of the US. He was not only a steadfast friend of Bangladesh and other countries of the sub-continent, but also a faithful and warm companion of many individuals of these nations. He regularly invited scholars and reputed persons from these lands to his home.
Craig served Juniata College until his retirement. He made Huntingdon his home and spent the closing years of his life in the quiet town where everybody greeted him as Professor Baxter. When Barbara, his wife and school-day classmate, died a few years ago, he became lonely. His son Craig Jr. and daughter Louise were away, living and working near Washington. Craig found congenial company in the town he loved and continued to live there until the very end.
One remembers the delightful time in his well appointed but somewhat quiet home where he loved to sip his favourite drink and recollect fondly the details of his days in the sub-continent. He loved books, good food, and people. He reached out and made friends comfortable by his easy and simple behaviour. In essence, Craig's unique personality radiated the warmth of a culture that was truly global. In his demise, Bangladesh in particular and South Asia in general have lost an invaluable friend.

The author, is a noted thinker and social scientist, the founder Chairman, Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh (CDRB), Editor, quarterly Asian Affairs, and first Overseas Director of American Institute of Bangladesh Studies (AIBS).

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